Spotlight on Art and Art Education Student Nishan Patel ☆

Nishan is in his second year of a Master’s program in Art and Art Education.  He received his BFA from Syracuse University in 2009 and is an educator, painter, and illustrator.  He has published two children’s books, “Sammy’s New Home” and “Evelyn Sylvan and the Curse of the Magical Tree Stump”.

How did your interest in art begin?

When I was two, my family and I traveled to India to visit our extended family and to see my uncle’s fiancée. It was going to be a love marriage (rather than the typical arranged marriage), so it was even more special.  But tragedy struck: There was a car accident and my uncle passed away.  My mother was in the car as well, and her legs were shattered.  We stayed in India for about two years so that my mother could have surgeries.  She truly is the strongest person I know.  It was hard for her to be away from me at this time and during my early childhood years.  The people who brought me up were my uncle’s friends. The one I connected with the most, Piyush, was an artist who spent a lot of time drawing with me.

My dad, mom, and I went back to America when I was around five, and all the while, I continued to draw and write. The arts provided me an outlet to make dreams a reality and gave me possibilities that were endless. My mother encouraged me to go after the art field for university—to follow my passion. My father, at first, wanted me to go into business; that’s why I applied to schools that had both business and art degrees, so it would look like I was pursuing business.  But I really wasn’t!

When did you decide to turn your passion for art into being an art educator?

After college, I did some magazine freelance work, but it just didn’t feel like ‘me’.  So I took two months off to make my first book, “Sammy’s New Home”.  During that time I visited a lot of libraries and schools to perform read-a-louds and activities. The looks and comments of the kids were priceless—I thought, wow, this is it—I have to do something with education.

Art is another form of language. When I draw, I can really share and communicate with others that I can’t with just words.  It is important for kids in schools to have that chance to explore as well, and that’s another reason I want to go into the teaching field.  It’s sad when the arts are cut from school.  Kids don’t have to grow up to be professional artists, but it is important to have that avenue to explore, communicate, and grow.

How does the balance between theory and practice in your program shape your learning?

It means I can keep my art practice going—I’m really happy that we have studio classes at TC.

I like the balance between writing, researching and making art.  If I just do one, I don’t really feel complete.  I took a year off and I was just drawing, and it felt like something was missing.  I felt like I needed to go back to school.  The top artists say you should just wake up and draw and paint, but after that year, I really wanted to do other things coupled with drawing and painting.

At TC, I learn things constantly; from my peers, from my professors.  I studied painting and illustration for four years at Syracuse–when I came to TC, I took an intro to painting class with Olga Hubbard, she had such a different way of approaching the field.  It was amazing. One never stops learning.

You’ve shown your art both in a commercial setting and in an academic setting.  How does the experience differ?

On the educational front, I’ve shown my work twice at Macy Gallery.  On the commercial side, my art was in a show last year at the Ceres Gallery in Chelsea.  It happened so fast that I just chose some works to include.  Now, I’m having another gallery show of my paintings in mid-December (20th-24th; reception: Thursday 12/22 at 7pm), and am constructing a theme for all of the pieces to flow from one to another. The thought of ‘what is going to sell?’ may come up, but ultimately, I know I will just make what I want to make. The show’s theme is communication—one’s past, present, and where one might be headed.

It is like lightening has struck twice for you:  You have gallery representation and two of your books were published.  What’s the secret?

I just went out there.  I brought my paintings to Chelsea and kept going until a gallery accepted me.  And, I don’t know anyone in book publishing.  I just made the books and it happened.  I’m always working on stories, in the subway, everywhere.  I just wrote the script for my third book, so hopefully next summer it will come out.  I’m also working on two graphic novels for adults.

Tell us about the themes of your children’s books.

The stories are about friendship, family, solving problems, and growing.  They’re based upon people I know, and myself.  When it is personal it is more effective.

Some of the artwork in your portfolio is quite provocative.  You’ve addressed homelessness, domestic violence and sexuality.  Do you see the artist occupying a special role in society as a social commentator?

Definitely—just as a writer does.  You put your opinion out there and share your experiences. I love to get dialogues going.

What is your goal after you have your Master’s?

I may want to go for another few years for Art Administration so I can see how both sides work.  In the summers and weekends I will keep up with out-of-school teaching.  There’s a place in Brooklyn called 828NYC that is a creative space for after school and weekends.  Kids come in for writing and drawing workshops, and they walk away with a book.  I’ve done a couple of projects with them and would love to continue to work with educational programs like that.

Will you be involved in the NAEA conference this year?

Yes, and its awesome that it will be in New York.  I went to the conference in Seattle last year, and I got to see so much.  I will be chairing a session this year with my fellow peers Rabeya Jalil and Erika Pekar.  It will be a lecture/open panel discussion on the impact of TC on Art Education and reform and how we have grown, added and shared with one another as educators. Hope to see you there!

To visit Nishan’s blog to see examples of his work and sample curricula, click here.